Maptio: Reimagining Business and Workplaces with Open Source Thinking

Tom Nixon
Written by Tom Nixon August 13, 2023

In my first Corporate Rebels guest post, I whizzed through the problems with old-school org charts based on rigid management hierarchy and explained the reasons why we created Maptio—an open-source tool with radically inclusive pricing—to visually map the types of initiatives that foster more creativity, decentralization, and dynamism. 

But the Maptio journey isn't just about creating a product that I desperately needed for my own work. The whole endeavor is also a big living experiment in how we can challenge the norms of what it means to be a "company" or "workplace." 

In this post, I will highlight one way we are making a distinct difference: Radically breaking open the conventional walls that surround most companies by embracing open-source thinking.

How to be radically inclusive, scale a workforce without the costs or complexity, and break down the boundaries surrounding a company.
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Open Source Ecosystems vs. Big Tech Castles

Most companies have strict boundaries around them. They build their own workforce, consisting of employees and contractors, fiercely protect their intellectual property, and compete with other companies for the same customers. It's a tale of separation, with "us, in here," and everything else remaining outside, even when the fluffy, green language of "stakeholders" is used.

At Maptio, we're exploring how to transcend this walled garden paradigm. While we do offer Maptio in the usual way based on subscriptions to our hosted platform, we also took the plunge and made Maptio open source. This means that anyone can freely use our code, modify it to suit their needs, and, most importantly, contribute improvements, bug fixes, and even new derivative products to the commons, benefiting everyone.

Since our code repository is public, those with some tech skills can dive straight in, examine the innermost workings of Maptio, comment on open issues, report bugs and feature requests, and submit new code for inclusion, right there in the space where the core Maptio team operates.

However, this doesn't mean a free-for-all approach. The Maptio team has the final say regarding which contributions are merged into the main codebase, ensuring we can stay true to our vision (we'll never allow it to become bloated with too many features!). But the beautiful thing about open source is that anyone who doesn't vibe with our vision or decisions is free to "fork" the entire project and take their version in a new direction, even if it appears to be a "competing" one, provided they also make their changes open source and clearly credit the original project. In fact, it's even possible we could collaborate with them and start a joint venture.

Using open source like this scares off many investors who seek to build and fortify giant golden castles that can be floated on stock exchanges or sold to the larger fish in the tech industry pond (making a small number of people very rich and adding to the spiraling inequality in the world - yay, capitalism!).

But these investors aren't the right fit for us. Maptio has a wonderful group of impact investors who have backed our approach. And now that we're open source, other funding opportunities become available to us, such as grants from groups keen on funding public goods like Maptio, which contribute to a greater good and do good in the world. When we secure funding, we'll not only use it to fund our internal resources, but we'll also share it with others in the broader ecosystems we're part of, ensuring that everything "living" there can also be fed and watered.

Reimagining the 'Workforce'

Open source is not just about how intellectual property is licensed; it provides a new paradigm of what it means to be a "workforce." Corporate Rebels fans know that decentralizing teams and decision-making within companies is gaining popularity. But with open source, we can go much further and be radically decentralized beyond the walls of the company itself.

In May 2023, we experienced a magical moment when we integrated the first improvement to Maptio, created by someone 'outside' our company, who, in turn, wanted to use Maptio to assist a food cooperative in staying organized. Even better, it was an improvement that makes it easier for others to set up and run their instances of Maptio. It was a tiny, yet significant, symbolic step. There's a ton more work to do to make Maptio a highly accessible open source product, but if we can scale contributions like this, the possibilities are clear and exciting.

Our vision is not to build a big software company with loads of employees, high costs, stress, HR burdens, and high-growth demands from investors. Instead, we'll keep the core of Maptio radically minimal while exploring how we can improve the product and scale our impact by nurturing a thriving ecosystem of contributors.

In my next guest post, I'll reveal another way we're going beyond business-as-usual by transcending the current fashion of "shared purpose." Stay tuned.

Written by Tom Nixon
Tom Nixon
Tom Nixon is the founder of Maptio, an Associate at Greaterthan, a coach and advisor to pioneering founders, and the author of Work with Source.
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